The following is an interview that Yechiel Engelhard, Geckocap’s founder, gave a few days ago. Check it out!
Tell us about your start-up? How did you come up with the name for your company?
Our product is called GeckoCap. We really love the name because we think it tells our story well. GeckoCap is a versatile smart sensor fitted in a small colored cap that can help children gain more control over their asthma. So on the one hand, it is a cap; just like the name implies. On the other hand, it has something fun associated with it. The Gecko. Yup. We (and the first kids that helped us build it) really like Geckos. What can I say!
GeckoCap is a combination of a smartphone / web application and an external sensor that is easily added to asthma inhalers. This makes it simpler for children to adhere to their inhalers and helps with asthma management. GeckoCap uses a multifaceted approach by combining different behaviour change mechanisms, such as a gamification system, progress updates, and rewards. Parents and physicians are always kept in the loop. They are offered a rich platform with information that is useful and easy to digest, and they are even part of the game.
What was the motivation behind founding your start-up?
I spent several years working as a physician while also immersing myself in the entrepreneurial world. During that time, I noticed it was difficult to continue providing guidance to many of my patients after discharge. I found the most challenging parts were keeping patients constantly aware of their chronic conditions, avoiding re-admissions, and un-needed deterioration. This problem became my underlying motivator to create GeckoCap.
GeckoCap was started by us, a group of professionals who had first hand experience not only with combining technology and medicine, but also with dealing directly with asthma. We all met at an MIT ‘Hackathon’ where we shared different ideas and paradigms with one another. When we got to GeckoCap we all became excited about it being the right project to go after. This excitement, stemming from an opportunity to help asthmatic children, illuminated the path to the eventual creation of this solution and ultimately to the company.
The product we designed and developed is our attempt to help young patients understand and continue to self-monitor their condition after leaving the doctor’s office. I also realized that surprisingly, there are not enough medical solutions designed specifically for children with chronic conditions. With that in mind, and with our own experience dealing with asthma, we began trying to solve some of the biggest problems and barriers children and families face.
Have any specific elements interested you about the process?
Our research into the lives of children with asthma gave us the opportunity to work with different families for extended periods of time. We were able to get a better understanding of their day-to-day lives. It was especially humbling to see how families push through all of the difficulties that managing asthma creates.
People we met came from diverse backgrounds and cultures. This really opened our eyes to many different outlooks regarding asthma. Cultural differences are very important in asthma management, a disease that has a higher prevalence and is more poorly controlled by asthma patients among African-American and Hispanic/Latino populations. It became essential for us to create a universal product that will help every child and family understand the importance of medication adherence.
What have been the challenges along the way and how have you solved them?
Healthcare products have to be reliable and extremely safe. For that reason, it was important that we created a product which complied with the health industry’s strict guidelines. At the same time, we knew our product had to be user friendly. It has been a challenge to find the right balance between usability and detailed precision. We all know that the same technology put to use in another industry has to be approached from a completely different paradigm in the healthcare industry. This means higher costs, and more time spent and processes created for a small startup such as ourselves. As a consumer product company, we want to put the product in the hands of the users as fast as you can, but because we are dealing with sick children, we need to use a process that enables us to bring the best product to the market.
In order to comply with all the regulations (safety and data security) from day one, we decided to use the same processes that are used with most medical devices. We chose to work with a manufacturer that has proven experience bringing medical device products to the market. We also looked for best practices regarding simple usability and secured user data, and made sure we have the right expertise inside the company.
What’s next for your company?
Personally, like I mentioned before, I always found it difficult to increase my patients’ healthcare awareness and to easily follow-up with them after discharge. My main vision is to create solutions that encourage patients to self-manage their disease in an engaging way that is geared toward their specific challenges. What’s next for us? I would say it’s developing more innovative products that support growth in patient understanding of how to manage their own diseases and staying healthy. We want to help educate responsible, health-conscious individuals through technology.
GeckoCap was built upon that vision. We created a reward system that was designed for kids and their families. This system gets users involved in their own medication management, but also lets parents set goals and give prizes to encourage healthy habits and increase awareness in their children. In the near future, we will improve and combine technologies that both apply to health care accessibility and to children stricken with chronic illness. There actually is a tough barrier in technology that relates to children in all ages: the technology must be fun, understable, and usable while also being informative and descriptive. Only then will that technology have the potential to become a success.
What three factors contribute to the success of a start-up?
In my opinion a start up will succeed because of three factors: team, team, and team. Did I mention team? This is the heart of all successful start-ups.
The first factor is team resilience. It can be assessed by a simple question. How much are you willing to give up? The long and winding road to a successful startup is ridden with obstacles and hardships. It will never be easy and thus requires the undivided attention of all that wish to go down that road. How much of your time will you sacrifice? How much of your money? Your previous job? And so on and so forth. You always need to ask yourself before venturing in the land of entrepreneurship: How badly do you want it?
The second factor is the build up of your team. The members have to complement each other. I think of our team as an assortment of spinning cogs. To achieve the end result, all of them must be interconnected with one another. If just one member is disconnected, the final cog will not spin. I also constantly stress how important it is to know your role in the team. Everyone has a specific job to do, and it is essential to focus on that job and do it to the best of your potential, to directly or indirectly support the rest of your team.
Last but not least, your team members need to understand not only the solution they are trying to implement, but the underlying problem at hand and the industry itself. These are people whose skills combine not only tech and managerial elements but also the key element of experience that they possess in the relevant industry.
Finally, what’s your advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
In my opinion, an entrepreneur does not have to choose a project with the most innovative technology or even one that offers the most perfect solution, but it does have to pave a path to something new that can create better value for someone. It is essential to find a problem and solution that you understand and that you are passionate about. Passion brings out the energy needed to develop a new ideology and keep you motivated to solve the problem.
Another problem that entrepreneurs sometimes have is the inability to look at the industry from the inside. Many entrepreneurs do keep on top of the industry but from an outsider’s perspective. Make sure to become a part of the industry and immerse yourself with knowledge only obtained from genuine experience. Understand not only why certain solutions worked but why others failed, and don’t make the same mistakes.
When you find a real problem and solution and your team is set up, find your support. Funders, customers, and mentors will be the cornerstone to the success of your business from day one.